A week ago, I taught my 2,000th private lesson since moving to the Toronto area in June of 2007.  While living in Columbus, Ohio, I had taught private lessons in Cooper Ryu as well as Modern Arnis. I did not keep detailed records (as I did after moving here). 

To the best of my recollection, I taught private lessons to 12 folks during the 17 years I lived in Columbus. The vast majority of the private lessons involved Cooper Ryu, a hybrid of Chung Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do and Vee Jiu Jitsu. The remainder were in Modern Arnis. I would guesstimate that I taught approximately 250 private lessons spread over those 17 years.

Once I got settled in Oshawa, I started tracking my private lessons on a spreadsheet. Never did I think that I would reach 2,000. Every single private experience has been in Modern Arnis.

I recognize that 2,000 private lessons may not be a big deal to those who have taught far more private lessons than I have. I can’t begin to imagine the experience accumulated by those who have trained more than I have.

Two of my favorite clients, Noel and Alan. Amazing guys.

The age range of my clients over the years have ranged from 6 years old to 83 years old. Different clients have different needs, and the private lessons reflect that.

That said, I have learned just as much from the private lesson clients as they have learned from me. As a result, I feel that I am further along as an instructor than if I had never offered private lessons. Based on my experiences, I have learned the following:

(1) Entertain questions from your private clients. This often opens up new avenues to explore and expand my horizons. So, I thank those clients for asking those questions. I implore you: keep asking questions!

(2) Be flexible in formulating the lesson plan. Most of the time, I will have two or three topics to cover in a private lesson tailored for the student. However, I will ask the client if there is anything they want to include. Sometimes, their answer will dovetail with the lesson plan. Other times, it won’t. When that happens, I often junk my plan in favor of their request. For example, just before the 2,000th private lesson, I asked Alex what he wanted to cover. He replied “Sinawali boxing.” I ditched my plan in favor of his request. And so that’s what we did for the entire lesson.

(3) The vast majority of my private lessons are one hour in length. Not all folks can train for an hour. An obvious example is 7-year-old kids, most of whom can remain focused for 30 to 45 minutes before spacing out. I have one adult client who can only squeeze in half-hour lessons due to his demanding IT job.

(4) Once in a while, I will video a private lesson so that I can analyze my student and see if I overlooked any flaws or errors either by the client or by yours truly. 🙂 Never underestimate the power of video as it can be brutally honest.

(5) Most of my clients prefer structured lessons. Structured material can range from concepts (“I want to work on palis palis”) to specific technique sequences (“I want to work on this left-hand technique.”) and flow drills. Sometimes, they will ask to cover curriculum material.

(6) Occasionally, the client will want some free form or freestyle in their lessons. To increase their learning curve, I have found it helpful to impose parameters on the topic matter. For example, “you drive on me with the left hand only.” This will force the client to rely only on left-hand material that he/she knows. I can tell you from experience that, to tell a student “do anything you want” often leads to confusion and loss of focus on their part. Most often, they’ll think of a million options and just get overwhelmed. Better not to go there.  Imposing parameters leads to clarity. Only when they are advanced students, do you let them do anything.

(7) Take the time to know your clients. Many times, they have revealed their motivations for training.

For example, I have a 63-year-old female client who moved to Canada from a foreign country that has a high crime rate. She described to me how she used to carry a handgun in her purse to work, checking the weapon in when entering her workplace, and checking it out when leaving work. Hearing about her former life gave me a better understanding of why she wanted to train in knife and stick self-defense. Another student has a similar life story. Take the time to listen to them. Their stories can be eye-opening.

(8) Some of my students like to go through scenarios, either physically or in discussion form. One client briefly had trouble wrapping his mind around the fact that engaging in provocative behavior may invalidate his claim to self-defense.  I cited to the Canadian Criminal Code and told him he can claim self-defense in response to an unprovoked attack. But, if he calls another person “a motherfucking piece of shit” and provokes the other person into attacking him, he probably will not have any valid claim to self-defense. I said to him: “a word to the wise; don’t be an asshole and you’ll be okay.”  Getting this message across to my students is far more valuable than the physical material.

(9) Be attuned to their energy. The intensity/energy level of the lesson may depend on how they are feeling. A client may feel run down due to work or other circumstances in his/her life. Do you go with a less intense session or do you ramp it up? Depends on what the client wants and go with the flow!

(10) Lastly, I’ve learned that private lessons are usually not physically taxing. However, I do get mentally exhausted as a result of being on my toes and paying attention to my clients during the course of the lesson. I tend to harp more on footwork and body mechanics than on flawed technique. Paying close attention for an entire hour can be tiring. So I’ve learned to space the lessons apart to allow for mental recovery and to ensure that I’m bringing my “A” game to each lesson.

I’m sure that I will garner more lessons in the next few years as I get more experience in teaching in private settings. So what’s next? 2,500 baby! This will probably take a couple of years. I might do an update when I get to the next milestone. Stay tuned!  Do any of you teach private lessons? Chime in with your experiences!

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